Editor’s note: Part I of this feature was published in the Cheyenne Edition on May 29, detailing the marriage and subsequent divorce in 1919 of Broadmoor neighborhood residents Benjamin and Maria Allen. They built a lavish 90-room estate, Hampshire House, at 4th and Elm streets, that Maria demolished in 1922 after their divorce. Maria (pronounced with a long “i”) soon decided to rebuild, and in 1923 a smaller version of the original structure, using similar building materials of brick and slate, arose on the original foundations. Part 2 follows the rebuilding of what’s now known as the Allen Mansion, located on the grounds of Chapel of Our Savior Episcopal Church.
The affluent Maria and Benjamin Curtis Allen wed in Philadelphia in 1894 and had five children. They moved to Colorado Springs and built a stately 80-room Tudor Jacobean mansion, Hampshire House, on Elm Street.
However, in 1919 their outwardly beautiful and wealthy life abruptly changed. Maria returned home that year from an extended visit with family to find Benjamin cheating on her.
Enraged, Maria divorced him and destroyed the mansion, leaving behind only the carriage house and caretaker’s quarters. She then left town. A few years later, in 1923, Maria returned to the city she loved, Colorado Springs, and rebuilt. The new house was another Tudor-style mansion, less grand than the first, built in the same spot but with a different address fronting Polo Drive rather than Elm Street.
Allison McKean Allen Holland, one of Maria’s many grandchildren, recently recalled for the Cheyenne Edition “the rest of the story.” She provided a memory of her grandmother, Maria McKean Allen as more than a disheartened spouse who experienced a period of insanity and destroyed her home.
Holland’s father, George, born in 1902, was Benjamin and Maria’s youngest child. At the time his parents divorced he was a young adult pursuing his own fortunes in Houston, Texas, where Allison Holland was born in 1934.
Maria McKean Allen had an impressive pedigree, as her great grandfather, Thomas McKean, was a colonel in the Revolutionary War and a member of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783. He was among those who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, was Pennsylvania’s chief justice from 1777-1799, and served as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1808. Pennsylvania’s McKean County is named for him.
“He was quite a hero,” Holland explains.
Maria came from a family of wealth and privilege when she married the attractive Benjamin Allen, and she longed for a large estate of her own. She convinced prominent east-coast architect, Horace Trumbauer, to come to Colorado Springs to design her original dream mansion.
Holland, 85, has clear memories of making infrequent visits to see her grandmother in Colorado Springs and staying at the present estate. She described her grandmother Maria as being rather remote, and a formal invitation was extended prior to a visit.
When Holland was 14, she and her mother and younger brother spent most of the summer at Maria’s (second) estate. Although the second mansion had adequate accommodations for the visitors, they were delegated to stay in the cottage on the east side of the main building. Maria bought the visitors a stove so they could prepare most of their own meals.
From time to time the visitors from Texas would receive an invitation to dine in the big house with Maria. As Holland recalls, her grandmother would be found sitting in a velvet chair in front of the living room fireplace, a shawl around her shoulders. She was a short, stern woman gifted with thick white hair. The adults would sip sherry and eventually all would enter the expansive dining room for a meal Holland described as “bland, boiled food.”
Maria was an avid collector of Victorian and English furniture, Oriental porcelain, Chinese exports and paintings. Her lavish home was filled with “only the best” says Holland.
“She had beautiful things, everything to perfection … she loved the house,” Holland said.
Holland inherited her grandmother’s love of beautiful things and opulent gardens, becoming an interior designer and gifted gardener herself.
Maria’s extensive gardens were a sight to behold, according to Holland, who compares them to Winterthur in Delaware and Filoli in California.
“The gardens were fabulous … They took my breath away.” There was a rock garden with streams and ponds, a shrubbery garden, cutting garden with blooms for household arrangements, and a nature garden filled with trees and wildflowers. The back patio was surrounded by a riot of colorful and fragrant rose bushes. Maria had a reputation for patrolling the estate grounds and hollering out the windows at her many gardeners, directing them to do her bidding.
According to Holland, gardening was Maria’s refuge as she wasn’t very happy once her marriage had ended, and her children were grown and gone. She was a charter member of the Broadmoor Garden Club, and served as its first president in 1935.
Holland recollects that Maria had small hands with bitten fingernails. Her grandchildren were fearful when they stood at attention in front of her. She was strict, demanding, and critical. She had perfect etiquette, terrible handwriting and loved to travel.
Holland’s grandfather, Benjamin Allen, was not talked about within the family and was a sore subject to Holland’s father, George. Father and son were not close.
Holland said she is grateful that Chapel of Our Saviour is now the owner and caretaker of the home and a part of her childhood memories, although the amazing gardens are mostly gone.
“The house has aristocracy, is well planned and is a powerful piece of property,” she said. “I want it to be taken care of.”